Editor in Chief, Kazushiro Tamiya
Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, member nations are supposed to liberalize 95 percent of the tariff lines. Japan will not be able to achieve this target unless it liberalizes a part of the five key farm items. In addition to this, the government will largely reduce tariffs, including cutting import duty on beef to 9 percent over 15 years, establish special import quotas for rice and dairy products and abolish tariffs on other items, all of which represent unprecedented levels of market liberalization. The deal poses a great risk of considerably weakening the nation’s foundation for agricultural production and food security.
If you compare the TPP agreement to besieging of a castle, it is like filling up an outer moat and then cutting off the supply of food. In 2010, after the Japanese government expressed its intention to join the TPP negotiations, American agricultural organizations which had been indifferent to the scheme suddenly showed strong interest in the talks, according to Japanese government sources. And they cunningly took everything they can get, never letting chances slip by. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the government has achieved the “best possible outcomes in line with the national interest,” but it is said that the U.S. negotiators have managed, at a relatively early stage, to win drastic cuts in beef and pork tariffs from Japan.
In addition to the receding defense lines, the expected reduction in tariff revenues would become a threat to sustainable agriculture. Not only the tariff revenues from beef imports which have been used to support cattle breeders, but also the government’s markup on imported wheat which has been used to assist domestic wheat production will be cut by 45 percent. Such policies would not encourage farmers to try to sell their products in overseas markets, but rather could force many of them to give up their business.
The government will start discussing measures to minimize the negative impact of the TPP agreement on domestic farmers. However, we should not expect much from the Abe administration. Much of the administration’s farm policies are decided by the government’s advisory panel, whose members are mostly representatives of business circles who were not assigned to the post through elections. We must be careful not to be taken up by the propaganda which underestimates the negative consequences of the TPP agreement while overplaying its merits.
There is a possibility that the government conduct a drastic structural reform under the unrealistic slogan of realizing proactive agriculture. Narrowing down those who are subject to assistance measures, cutting agriculture-related budgets, reducing government intervention and allowing private enterprises to obtain farmlands — all these steps mean nothing but the Shock Doctrine, or the so-called disaster capitalism where political leaders try to push through controversial neo-liberalistic policies while the public is too distracted by the TPP’s threat to food safety to mount an effective resistance.
Lawmakers who voted for the Diet resolutions which pledge to protect key farm products bear a grave obligation to keep the promise. They had been left out in the cold while the government negotiated the TPP agreement, but from now on, it is their task to fight to protect the nation’s agriculture. The same thing can be said about the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We strongly hope they will start discussing the measures not from the viewpoint of the prime minister’s office, but for the sake of farmers.
(Oct. 7, 2015)